In the last 15 years, so much has been said, done and undone about the notorious Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They are the eight goals globally agreed upon in the year 2000, with the target year of achievement being 2015. In less than two months therefore, it will be time to say goodbye to the MDG rhetoric and say hello to a new global agenda for development: the Sustainable Development Goals.
What exactly is the difference between the MDGs and SDGs? How significant is this transition and will it matter to the development needs of a continent like Africa?
THE MDGs: So Close, Yet So Far
The MDGs agreed upon by all member states of the United Nations in 2000 to be achieved by 2015 included eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.
The final 2015 report of the United Nations on the attainment of MDGs notes that ‘unprecedented efforts have resulted in profound achievements’ but points to the fact that ‘despite many successes, the poorest and most vulnerable people are being left behind’.
Expressed in simpler terms, progress made towards attainment of MDGs is best described as variegated, so say the least. There is an appreciable level of disparity in the levels of achievement of the different goals, but more important is the practical ramifications of reported successes. For instance, the UN report notes that primary school net enrolment rate – a major indicator of MDG 2 on achieving universal primary education – in developing regions of the world reached 91 per cent in 2015, up from 83 per cent in 2000. Specific mention is made of Sub-Saharan Africa having the best record of improvement in this respect, having achieved a 20 percentage point increase in net enrolment rate from 2000 to 2015, compared to just 8 percentage points in the preceding decade.
Whilst progress of this nature is being celebrated and probably should be, what it does not tell is the fact that a sizeable number of countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa have primary school completion rate below 60 per cent. An African Development Bank report notes that, as of 2014 almost 22 per cent of the region’s primary age children are out of school, a third of primary school students drop out without acquiring minimum basic competencies in mathematics and reading, whilst the skills and quality content of the education systems in most countries remain questionable.
Without denying the credit due the global community in terms of the celebrated success of the MDGs, caution and reflection, rather than outright celebration is probably the best way to go. The fact is that, only a couple of targets under the MDGs, such as increase in official development assistance and access to piped drinking water was somewhat achieved. All other targets were either narrowly missed or missed by a considerable margin by 2015.
THE Era of the SDGs
But all that is old story now, 2015 is almost gone and it will soon be the era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These new set of universal goals is expected to be achieved by UN members in the next 15 years. Unlike the 8 MGS, this time around the list is made up of 17 broad goals, which I recommend you go through, if you have the time to do so.
Within the 17 goals are a further 169 targets to operationalise the broad goals. Advocates point out that unlike the MDGs, SDGs are a product of wide consultation involving a working group with membership from 70 countries, alongside global thematic conversations and door-to-door surveys. If all goes according to plan, the attainment of these goals will herald the end of global poverty by 2030.
But things like this hardly go to plan. The goals are already being criticized for being too broad and it is not difficult to see why. The unwieldy nature of the wording of these goals makes them difficult to understand, especially for those for whom they are created. It would appear that the need to achieve some form of global consensus for the goals have overshadowed the practical implications of the goals themselves. It is intriguing to see how the measuring of all 169 targets will go.
If the conference held in Addis Ababa in July on the financing of the SDGs is anything to go by, it is difficult to see what difference the transition or transposition of MDGs with SDGs will make any difference. This is because, even though the goals have increased, there was no commiserate commitment to increase funding for the SDGs. The best result from the conference was a mere ‘recommitment’ to the rather stale UN target for developed countries to spend 0.7 per cent of their GNI on aid, which was set more than 40 years ago.
IF Not MDGs or SDGs, Then What?
There is little controversy that the world has changed reasonably since the MDGs were first agreed upon in the year 2000. It would however be patronising to consider this change as drastic or to attribute it wholly to MDG programme. In the same vein, it would be mistaken for the developing world in particular, to put their hopes of ending poverty or development generally on the SDGs.
There are many global issues that need to be addressed side-by-side the pursuance of SDG goals. It is no news that climate change affects the poor more than anyone else, so events in Paris in the next couple of weeks, in terms of candid commitments by western countries at the climate change conference will prove pivotal.
The injustice of the world trading system under the WTO to developing countries continues and the lacklustre commitment at the global level to fight tax evasion and transnational corruption are just a few of the issues which will continue to significantly impact development.
Without resolving these, no Porsche-sounding three letter words will really end global poverty and lead to sustainable development. Developing countries must avoid the temptation of being carried away by flamboyant global initiatives and understand where their priorities should lie.